My mom’s a pretty darn good cook. But, as with all Chinese mom’s, she rarely, if ever, follows a recipe. Most of the time it’s throwing ingredients into a pot or cutting up ingredients to stir fry. Dash of this, pinch of that, splash of this, sprinkle of that. Magic occurs. But that doesn’t happen when you bake. You have to measure and be precise. You can’t just wing it. And like most Chinese mom’s she rarely baked. So when the DIY Desserts came around for 18 Reasons, I was a little concerned when the theme “Mom’s Best Desserts” was picked. Not that it was a surprise, as I had a hand in picking it with my co-leader Melanie. But I still had to ponder what to make. In the end, I opted for a variant of one of the few things my mom baked growing up, a Marble Dark Chocolate Vanilla Bean Bundt Cake.
We always joked that my mom was a fantastic cook, unless she had to follow a recipe. There’s an infamous attempt at making clam chowder, which I have no actual memory of, other than the entire family was horrified at how it ended up (incredibly briny, with way too much clam). I have a feeling my mom, who came from a world where you did not waste a single ingredient, read that you use a small amount of clams in the recipe. Not wanting to waste it, she used the entire can instead. My mom has never made clam chowder since.
Growing up though, I rarely saw her bake. She would spend all day making steamed pork buns, or days on end making sticky rice dumplings. I adored her steamed radish cakes and she makes an amazing Taiwanese soup that, to this day, I still don’t know how to make or even call it (it involves a dubious ingredient called “fish paste” which, when I think about what it must be, is probably not the most appetizing). But baking was not her thing.
Once a month, my family had a gather of friends, a potluck, where the men played bridge and the women sat around and chatted. I have memories of my mom baking two different desserts to the potluck, a blueberry cheesecake (thin graham cracker crust, thin cheesecake layer and a gooey blueberry layer from a can or blueberry pie filling) and a marble bundt cake. I don’t know if the marble cake was made from scratch or made from a mix, but I remember every time my mom made it, the cake was beautiful.
The brown and orange bundt pan that my mom used always seemed to symbolize upscale class to me. Sure other (non Chinese) moms made layer cakes (a lot of work and a lot of frosting) or sheet pans (boring), but a bundt cake was automatically fancy. Those ridges and dips, built into the pan, meant a cake that (if unmolded properly) would be dark, dense, with a lovely shiny crust. The marbling of the batters meant a slice would look as pretty on the inside as it did on the outside.
My marble cake that I made was from scratch. I haven’t made a cake from a box in a long time, nor do I even know if you can buy marble box cake. But I took a lesson from my mom and saved the wrapper of the stick of butter and used it to thinly grease the bundt pan, making sure that the butter grease reached into each crevice of the pan ensuring it releases properly.
The DIY dessert event, as always, was great. Sabrina from The Tomato Tart brought an amazing vegan mousse that had everyone going back for seconds and asking her “Is this really vegan? Really?” – yes, really.
Laura from CulturedSF brought some amazing carrot cupcakes with yogurt frosting. Two versions in fact; a taste test between the “regular” cupcake and the gluten free version that she had created. Verdict: I actually liked the gluten free version better (though the gluten free version was more difficult to make).
My co-leader Melanie brought a fantastic Banana Sour Cream Cake with hazelnuts that was inspired by her mom’s dessert of bananas and sour cream. Moist and layered with amazing textures, the cake felt way fancy!
And Jo brought her mom’s custard. Simple, basic and homey, it was like spooning up a piece of edible nostalgia.
The DIY Desserts event is changing at 18 Reasons. We are no longer hosting it once a month. Instead we’re going to be doing them quarterly. That said our next one is Thursday, June 2nd. The theme is pie, tarts and galettes! In time for summer bring your favorite pie, tart or dessert galette. The next DIY Desserts isn’t going to be happening until September, so this is the last time to hang out with us and enjoy the season fruit!
Hope to see you guys there!
Mom’s Marble Dark Chocolate Vanilla Bean Bundt Cake
By Irvin Lin
This recipe calls for creating chocolate syrup first and adding it to part of the batter to make the chocolate batter. The act of making the syrup, by adding the cocoa powder to the coffee, “blooms” the powder and brings out the chocolate flavor. The use of coffee (as opposed to just hot water which is what the original recipe called for) deepens the dark chocolate taste even more. I’ve also added vanilla bean to the original recipe to boost the vanilla flavor and because the vanilla seeds specks look nice and fancy in the glaze. If you don’t have vanilla beans, you can substitute 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract in it’s place, but the cake won’t be as complex in flavor.
There are a few unusual ingredients in this bundt cake that my mom definitely never used. Lyle’s Golden Syrup is a partially inverted sugar that lends a nice deep carmelized flavor. You can find it at specialty stores but if you don’t have it you can always substitute in light corn syrup in its place. The barley flour adds a nice subtle malt taste to the cake, but if you don’t have barley flour, omit it and just add another 50 g (1/3 cup) of all purpose flour in it’s place. If you don’t have a vanilla bean, add one more teaspoon of vanilla extract in it’s place but don’t expect the vanilla to be as strong or as deep. Be sure to save the wrappers from the butter and use them to grease the pan. Just like my mom would.
Adapted from Piece of Cake, which was adapted from a Buttercake Bakery and the Los Angeles Times.
2 1/2 cups (450 g) sugar, divided
1/2 cup (45 g) unsweetened natural cocoa powder (not dutch processed)
1/4 cup Lyle’s Golden Syrup
1/2 cup fresh brewed strong hot coffee
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, divided
2 1/3 cups (325 g) all purpose flour
1/2 cup (60 g) barley flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (225 g or 2 US sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 vanilla bean
1 cup buttermilk, well shaken
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Vanilla Bean Glaze
1 vanilla bean
1/4 cup whole milk
2 to 2 1/2 cups of confectioners’ (powdered) sugar
Valrhona chocolate pearls as decoration (optional)
1. Preheat an oven to 350˚F. Grease a 12 cup bundt pan with the wrappers from the room temperature butter, making sure to grease all the nooks and crannies of the bundt pan. Lightly flour the pan.
2. Place 1/2 cup (50 g) of the sugar, cocoa powder, golden syrup, and coffee in a small saucepan and heat on medium until the sugar has dissolved and the syrup starts to boil. Bring to simmer, whisking to make sure there are no more lumps. Once the syrup is smooth, remove from heat and stir in 1/2 teaspoon of the vanilla.
3. Place the all purpose flour, barley flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Take a balloon whisk and vigorously stir the dry ingredients until uniform in color and completely blended.
4. Place the butter and the remaining 2 cups (400 g) of sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until the butter look light in color and fluffy (about 2 minutes). Add one egg at a time, waiting for each egg to incorporate completely. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl in between each addition. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise, then using the tip of a knife, scrape the seeds on the inside of the bean into the bowl. Add the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla and mix the batter until the beans are incorporated.
5. Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients to the butter and beat on medium until incorporated. Add half the buttermilk and beat on medium until incorporated. Repeat with 1/3 dry ingredients and then the rest of the buttermilk and ending with the dry ingredients. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl between each addition.
6. Gently fold in the chocolate chips to the batter, but adding the chips and then slicing down with a large spatula to the bottom and lifting the batter up and over the chips, repeating this motion, rotating the bowl slightly with each “folding” of the batter.
7. Spoon out 1/3 of the batter into the bowl that had the dry ingredients and pour the chocolate syrup into the bowl. Stir to incorporate completely and set aside.
8. Spoon half of the remaining vanilla batter into the prepared bundt pan. Spoon the chocolate batter on top of the vanilla batter. Then spoon the remaining vanilla batter on top of the chocolate batter. Then insert a butter knife into the batter and make “figure eight” motions throughout the entire cake, marbling the batter. You may want to sometimes dig deep to the bottom and sometimes lift up to make sure the batter really moves around. But don’t overmix the batter, you want to make sure the two batters stay separate.
9. Bake in the preheated oven for 50 – 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean and the cake springs back a when pressed down lightly. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack until almost room temperature (a little warm is ok) and then invert onto serving plate. If the cake doesn’t unmold, gently slip a very thin knife between the cake and the pan all the way around to loosen it and then try unmolding it.
10. While the cake is cooling, slice a vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds into the 1/2 cup of milk, in a liquid measuring cup. Then chop the bean in half and toss the pod in with the milk as well. Place in the fridge to steep as the cake cools.
11. Once the cake has cooled completely, take the milk out of the refrigerator and sift 2 cups of confectioner’s sugar into the milk. You want the glaze to be thin enough to pour, but thick enough to hold its shape on the cake. If the glaze is too thin, add more confectioners’ sugar a tablespoon at a time until the desired thickness. Drizzle the glaze on top of the cake, making sure the glaze drips down the sides of the cake. If using the chocolate pearls, sprinkle them random on top and on the sides immediately before the glaze dries.
Makes 1 Bundt Cake, serves 12 people
Lauren at Keep It Sweet says
I love the old family photos! This bundt cake sounds amazing and has such a beautiful presentation!
I love how different people’s perceptions can be. To me, layer cakes were always upscale and class, maybe because we rarely had them. But bundt cakes just seemed homey and plain, perhaps because we had them a lot and they just seemed less fussy.
And your mother, totally gorgeous. I love the look of that era, it’s so sophisticated, classic, and sleek.
Shakila @ thirdculturekitchen says
your childhood, at least this part of it, sounds alarmingly like mine! as does your mom. only move it to the south asian region. but the no-recipe cooking, the potluck parties and the only time she followed a recipe was when she made cake. any other recipe attempts were inevitably rejected by the whole family. haha, another one for the Moms From The East file.
I love your family photos too! This cake looks amazing. I love bundt cakes with glaze icings, I’m going to save this one to try!
Love the theme! It’s going to get me thinking about what my mom used to make, and it’s going to inspire me to attempt to duplicate it.
The photos, as always, are great. Yours and your family’s.
Sabrina Modelle says
Oh my goodness, your mom’s photo is so pretty- even prettier than your cake which admittedly is gorgeous. I will miss the monthly dessert parties, but I’m sure they’ll be awesome as quarterly events as well.
That is a gorgeous photo of your mom! I wonder if making bundt cake was a trend for a while in the Taiwanese community, because I totally remember my mother making bundt cake on a regular basis for social gatherings when I was around 5 or 6 years old. The detail about keeping the butter wrapping to grease the cake pan caught my eye, because I watched my mom do that with her bundt cake pans and still do that to this day when I have occasion to bake. Lovely blog post, and that photo of you rocking out the red (corduroy) jumpsuit is great!
The cake is gorgeous and I love the family pics. Scares me to think about what people will say when K shows them her childhood photos.
your pictures are very good very beautiful!! A very good Clam chowder is not easy to make! and you love ur mom!!
thanks to share